top of page

Know Thyself: Why Design Leaders Need to Exercise Compassion More Than Ever

Design is all about connecting users to well thought out experiences sourced from compassion and empathy. Luckily, the design community is already familiar with both these concepts. While empathy is the ability to understand other people's emotions by experiencing feelings through or with them, compassion takes empathy to the next level.

Photo Courtesy: Jet de la Cruz

Why Design Leaders Need to Exercise Compassion

Compassion is a desire and willingness to be kind to others. Practicing compassion means being aware and thoughtful of others’ experiences and lives. The opposite of indifference, compassion is an essential quality that helps us determine whether someone is a decent human being. When you are compassionate, it means you see others as a part of yourself and relate to what they are going through at a deeper level.

Being compassionate is now more important than ever because compassionate design leaders:

  • can create higher levels of employee engagement

  • have better communication skills

  • build trusting relationships at all levels

  • resilient but not pushy

  • lead to more significant collaborations within organizations

  • play a crucial role to lower rates of employee turnover

How Can Design Teams Practice Compassion?

Now that we know how much value compassion offers, we must find ways to incorporate this skill into design roles across teams. Since the business world took decades to digest the concept of ‘empathy,’ implementing “compassion” in our leadership is a big challenge.

Allowing others to experience compassion is a better approach than labeling it for them because it’s human nature to learn by doing. There is an ongoing need to build a framework through introspection, dialogue, or simple activities. However, it all starts with becoming mindful of our own intentions with every action we take and each thought we experience.

If leaders want their designers to be compassionate of their users' needs and each other, they must first show genuine compassion for their own self-worth and the healing of their emotions. Only then can you show compassion for your teams. The Socratic motto, ‘Know Thyself,’ and his beliefs also shed light on the importance of examining one's own life.

Over the last few years, we observed a shift toward building and coaching abilities. Now design teams encourage their colleagues and stakeholders to implement design thinking into their toolkit. This strategy helps designers ask the right questions to become better equipped to overcome a challenging situation.

Allowing others to “do” is a traditional leadership value. However, we can extend the reach in a non-hierarchical manner by asking others to collaborate in a way that feels aligned so they can “be".

Final Thoughts

The concept of compassion and empathy is at the heart of many eastern practices and philosophies. However, it appears that most of us in the U.S. show empathy by approximation. We believe we feel it but what we have is insight, not experience, knowledge, not wisdom.

Being mindful of our interactions and ourselves can help us become more passionate and emphatic about implementing these traits into our leadership style. Following the principles of Socrates can help draw designers' attention towards hidden opportunities in unmet customer needs to create intuitive design and agile solutions.


bottom of page